Where is Duisburg? An LP Postscript

Ronald Hitzler

Technical University, Dortmund

Sean Nye

University of Minnesota


The Love Parade was both the first "techno parade" of its kind in Europe, and the most famous, or notorious, techno parade over the course of its 21-year history. Techno parades are a special form of festival. They consist of a caravan of trucks that drive through the main streets of a major metropolitan area; these trucks are equipped with sound systems, from which DJs play electronic dance music (EDM). The aesthetics of techno parades, while displaying raver or cyber imagery, borrow from the aesthetics and structures within the larger history of festival parades, such as Pride parades and Carnival. Yet the Love Parade also became its own "original". The many techno parades that followed in the wake of the Love Parade, both parades within Germany, such as Generation Move in Hamburg and Reincarnation in Hannover, and internationally, such as the Street Parade in Zürich and the Techno Parade in Paris, borrowed extensively from the Love Parade's aesthetics and structures. The Love Parade thus became the symbolic originator of a specific form of EDM party, primarily based in Europe, that saw its rise in the 1990s and decline in the 2000s.

The Love Parade began on a nice summer's day in the fortuitous year of 1989, just a few months before 9 November, the date when the Berlin Wall came down. Its original site was along the Kurfürstendamm, the main shopping street in West Berlin. In Germany, the Love Parade was established during the musical-historical crossroads following the 1987-88 acid house trend in West Germany and prior to the early-90s techno-rave popular explosion in a newly united Germany. Its idea derived from Dr. Motte, a Berlin acid house DJ who wanted to have a free and open party on the streets where people could gather and "be themselves" through dance, fun and spectacle. Approximately 150 partiers gathered on the Kurfürstendamm in 1989 for an underground festival, demonstrating that year with the rather ironic slogan, "Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen" (Peace, Love, Pancakes). It was little expected during this inauspicious beginning that the parade would develop already by 1992 into the flagship event for the German techno scene. In this year, the regional EDM scenes from across Germany gathered at a single event for the first time: the Love Parade.[1] It grew rapidly from 15,000 participants in 1992 to 750,000 in 1996, which was the year the Love Parade transferred from the Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin to the Straße des 17. Juni, a major thoroughfare which, while still located in West Berlin, led to the Brandenburg Gate, a monument along the former East-West border.[2] On the other side of the Brandenburg Gate, the thoroughfare continues in former East Berlin as the famous Unter den Linden. This move to the former border reflected in urban geography the symbolic development of the parade into pop symbol of a newly united Berlin and a newly united Germany (Nye 2009a). It eventually grew to become the largest techno festival in the world for a number of years, with a peak attendance of 1.5 million in 1999. It was even reputed to be the "symbol of a generation".[3]

The Berlin history of the Love Parade lasted between 1989 and 2006.[4] Its period in the Ruhr Valley was considerably shorter (2007 to 2010), and, we know now, far more tragic. With a 21-year long history that ended in the deaths of 21 people and the injuring of hundreds more at the 2010 Love Parade, a shadow has been cast across the Love Parade's legacy. It now already stands in the popular imagination as exemplary for an annual event whose existence was perpetually in crisis and whose future was never certain, but which, in the end, lived beyond its time. Like a badly scratched LP, the Love Parade played out for far too long. When the Duisburg tragedy occurred on 24 July 2010 and the definitive cancelling of any future Love Parade was announced by its de facto owner, Rainer Schaller,[5] the wheels of interpretation began to roll on the Love Parade's ultimate meaning for our time. The legal procedures regarding accountability and criminal actions occurring around the panic in Duisburg are still developing,[6] and we do not wish to participate in the deluge of accusations. As authors who have both experienced the Love Parade and lived in or visited the Ruhr Valley, we felt it incumbent to contribute an appropriate piece to this timely special issue that focuses on how the Love Parade came to a place called Duisburg and our reception of the media and social institutions associated with the event during this year.

This article is divided into three sections. We begin by offering a thorough introduction to the Ruhr Valley and the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region more generally. We explain the significance of both the Ruhr to the Love Parade and of the Love Parade to the Ruhr. Second, we discuss the city of Duisburg and its geographic, economic and cultural position within the Ruhr and in Germany. The investigation seeks to explain the interests involved in seeing Duisburg host the Love Parade and the challenges that Duisburg as a host city posed. This section includes our "eye-witness" accounts of the Love Parade Duisburg. In this part, we split our authorship and focus on our respective reports of the Love Parade Duisburg; an account by Hitzler is given from backstage at the Love Parade Duisburg itself, while Nye reports from Berlin about the "live" on-line streaming by the tabloid website Bild.de during the Love Parade. We believe this split position will help explain the complexity of receiving this catastrophe in the current structures of "event" organization (Gebhardt, Hitzler and Pfadenhauer, 2000), wireless media and breaking news. Finally, we offer some conclusions regarding the Love Parade's history in the Ruhr Valley and incorporate further the sociological concept of "events" to contextualize the role that mass gatherings such as the Love Parade play in marketing cities and regions with cultural capital and tourism in the hopes of attracting investment and new talent.

The Turn of the Ruhr

For a variety of reasons, the history of the Love Parade in Berlin had come to a definitive end. After 2006, a Berlin Love Parade was no longer an option. The new organizer of the event, the Lopavent GmbH, a "daughter" of the fitness chain McFit, began to search for a new site. McFit's owner, Rainer Schaller, had set up the Lopavent after he bought the Love Parade name in 2006. Thereafter, the Love Parade became an event organized by Lopavent in order to promote the McFit brand. As a new site, Lopavent became attracted to the Ruhr Valley, an industrial region of Germany and part of the greater "metropolitan region"[7] known as the "Rhine-Ruhr". The name "Rhine-Ruhr" refers to the Rhine and Ruhr Rivers, around which the various cities of this region conglomerate. Consisting of roughly 11 million people, the Rhine-Ruhr is unquestionably the largest metropolitan region in Germany, roughly double the size of the Berlin metropolitan region. However, this region poses different challenges to urban life since it is polycentric rather than monocentric. Indeed, the Rhine-Ruhr consists of an extraordinary web of larger and smaller cities, with twisting and winding freeways and railroads. It is a metropolitan maze comparable to the polycentric Los Angeles metropolitan region, though there are considerable structural differences.

Map of Germany

Figure 1. Map of Germany. Shows the borders of Germany's sixteen states and the locations of its eleven major metropolitan regions. Region 1 is the Berlin metropolitan region. Region 9 is the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region. The Rhine-Ruhr is located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, highlighted in yellow.

Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region

Figure 2. Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region.

With regard to the distribution of resources in this region, Düsseldorf (pop. 586,000) and Cologne (pop. 998,000) are, respectively, the wealthiest and largest cities of the Rhine-Ruhr, with greater international profiles and more impressive cultural capital. This cultural legacy includes considerable postwar musical histories. Düsseldorf boasts renowned electronic bands including Kraftwerk and Deutschamerikanische Freundschaft, while Cologne boasts an exceptional history that stretches from Karlheinz Stockhausen's elektronische Musik to the label Kompakt. The Ruhr Valley has a comparatively scarce musical tradition to promote itself, especially as regards electronic music. Moreover, Düsseldorf is the financial, telecommunications and fashion capital of the Rhine-Ruhr, while Cologne is its insurance and media center, among others. In fact, Düsseldorf is so wealthy that, since 2007, along with Dresden, it has been the only major city in Germany whose city government has no financial debt.[8] Finally, and significantly, both cities have a population growth that has stabilized due to good possibilities for employment and quality of life. The prognostics for both their futures in terms of economics, culture and population also look bright.

This leaves the other cities, many of considerable size, competing for both economic and cultural attention. As cities on the Rhine, Düsseldorf and Cologne prove that of the Rhine-Ruhr, the Rhine has had the dominant edge, especially in terms of cultural prestige, while the Ruhr has usually had to play a supporting role. Indeed, the Ruhr cities have been beset by declining populations and struggling economies, with an average unemployment rate of 12 percent.

Map of the Ruhr Valley

Figure 3. Map of the Ruhr Valley

Yet the Ruhr is also a considerable metropolitan area whose collective population is significantly larger than Berlin: at roughly 7.5 million inhabitants versus greater Berlin's 4.5 million inhabitants. Moreover, the population of 7.5 million clearly shows that the Ruhr holds the bulk of the population of the Rhine-Ruhr itself. Along the Ruhr, four primary city centers stretch out from West to East, around which smaller cities conglomerate: Duisburg (pop. 490,000), Essen (pop. 575,000), Bochum (pop. 375,000) and Dortmund (pop. 580,000). The other cities of note on the Ruhr, in order of population, are Gelsenkirchen (pop. 260,000), Oberhausen (pop 210,000), Hagen (pop. 190,000), Hamm (pop. 180,000), Mühlheim an der Ruhr (pop. 165,000), and Herne (pop. 165,000). As we shall see, Gelsenkirchen assumed considerable importance in the context of the Love Parade. When the Lopavent GmbH decided to move to the Ruhr, it had to contend with a polycentric structure in which a city the size of Gelsenkirchen could also assert its claim to hosting the Love Parade. Gelsenkirchen was, indeed, successful during these negotiations.

This structure, however, points to the benefits that the Ruhr Valley offered to the Lopavent GmhH's plans for both transforming and securing the Love Parade's future. First, this polycentric region is so different in terms of structure from Berlin that it required the Love Parade take place in various cities within the Ruhr Valley. It appeared more like a "travelling carnival" than a Berlin parade. As a result, there would be little suspicion that the Lopavent GmbH had been forced to leave Berlin unwillingly and merely settle into the second-largest or third-largest city, etc. in Germany (Hamburg, Munich, etc). The move to the Ruhr Valley thus appeared like a conscious decision to fundamentally transform the Love Parade into something radically new. Second, the negotiations demonstrated that the managers from business, the media, politics and culture were quite interested in, indeed enthusiastic about, bringing the Love Parade to the Ruhr Valley. Third, the Ruhr region had already gained considerable cultural prestige because on 11 April 2006 the city of Essen had been successfully nominated from a pool of 18 applicants as the "European Capital of Culture" for 2010. The nomination of Essen was, in effect, the occasion for promoting the entire region as a "Ruhr Metropolis" of culture. By pooling their resources and embracing a marketing strategy of symbolic monocentrism, these cities might thus finally be able to trump the dominance of Cologne and Düsseldorf. Finally, it seemed as though the "Ruhrzeit"[9] had arrived.

The idea that had now been manifested, "the Ruhr Metropolis", seemed to be the ideal surroundings for the Love Parade. However, as previously stated, the polycentric structure of the Ruhr required that the Love Parade be constantly on the move. Thus, a five-year plan was set up to both secure the cultural promotion of the Ruhr Valley and, finally, secure the future of the Love Parade. After all, the Love Parade had been in various stages of annual crisis regarding its future during its time in Berlin. These crises included actual cancellations of the parade in 2004 and 2005, which almost terminated the event. The following cities were thus chosen as the future sites of the Love Parade: Essen (2007), Dortmund (2008), Bochum (2009), Duisburg (2010), and Gelsenkirchen (2011). These plans were consciously made for the Love Parade to be an event that would garner anticipation and awareness for the grand-finale of the cultural year of "RUHR 2010".

On 25 August 2007, with the certainty that "Love is Everywhere", the parade train's advance through "the Ruhr Metropolis" began: first in the cultural capital of Essen. As had happened in previous years, the official figures of the Love Parade were shifted and exaggerated. Indeed, with pressure for greater success and marketing sensations, the Love Parade figures became exaggerated to the point of systematic falsification during the Ruhr years.[10] It reverberated in the media reports that approximately 1.2 million party people attended the Love Parade in Essen (unofficial statistics of 400,000 are more reasonable). The "floats", also known as "love mobiles", headed through the city to the main rallying square. The closing party held at the extraordinary and prize-winning main stage helped to quickly banish the painful and longing memories for the parties at the Berlin Victory Column (Siegessäule), where the former Love Parades had taken place. By the end of the parade and the closing party in Essen, all the worries that had been so prominent in the media—e.g., that the parade in the Ruhr Valley could be a quantitative disaster in terms of attendees, a qualitative debacle in terms of party organization, or that there would be either traffic chaos or street fights—proved unfounded.

Completely enthused by the precedent that Essen established in 2007, the Dortmund city authorities began to plan their own parade and to make the seemingly impossible possible once again: for the Love Parade 2008, the "Highway of Love", they blocked an entire section of the highway B1/A40. On the day of the event, the 19 July 2008, it was pouring rain. The start was delayed considerably, but when the parade finally began, a resounding sound-exhaust was emitted from the love trucks along the Ruhr highway. The masses of partying people seemed endless, both on the freeway and in front of the two-story main stage. To top it off, a major player in Dortmund city politics, Ullrich Sierau, who was elected mayor of Dortmund just a year later, counted from his helicopter roughly the same number as was concluded by Dortmund police: the Love Parade in Dortmund had 1.6 million participants and had thereby achieved the all-time record for Love Parade participants. As with the previous year, this count later proved to be highly exaggerated. Indeed, the count was suspiciously and conveniently 100,000 more than the record of 1.5 million set by the 1999 Love Parade. The PR announcements to be achieved with this estimate were obvious. Whatever the actual number (later estimates claimed that it was "only" 500,000), the enthusiasm of the participants, Ruhr authorities and Lopavent GmbH was certainly boundless at this time. Thus, everyone looked with anticipation toward Bochum, which was to hold the Love Parade the following year, in 2009, as had been agreed in 2006. Bochum seemed to be the logical continuation of what had already by this time become an established tradition of the Love Parade in the Ruhr.

However, the political bigwigs and cliques in the city of Bochum demonstrated unexpectedly, and thus even more clearly and painfully, that there was no such thing as a "Ruhr Metropolis" in which there are collective interests. In January 2009, the announcement came that the Love Parade could not take place in Bochum.[11] For many, the Ruhr Metropolis suddenly seemed to split apart again into its amalgam of 53 regional "Ruhrgebietsgemeinden" (or Ruhr Valley municipalities). The polycentric structure apparently showed its ugly side. The case of Bochum, according to the Love Parade protagonists, proved that the Ruhr municipalities were nothing but groveling, self-absorbed, and unimaginative mini-centers. Bochum knew about the Love Parade plans for three years; indeed, the city had insisted on a place in the five-year-plan of the Love Parade. However, just several months prior to the parade event, Bochum concluded that its little downtown unfortunately could not handle the size of the Love Parade. The size of the train station and issues of safety were cited as primary concerns. It was at a point when the preparation by the Lopavent GmbH had already been long set in motion. It proved too late to find an alternate site for the Love Parade in either Essen, Dortmund, or any other city in the Ruhr. So just when it seemed the Love Parade's future had finally been secured with the five-year plan for the Ruhr Valley, the Love Parade 2009 was cancelled.

For the numerous supporters of the Love Parade in the Ruhr Valley, including the organizers of the European Cultural Capital 2010 and those with a vision of the "Ruhr Metropolis", this blow was shocking, infuriating and viewed as the "Bochum breach of promise" (Bochumer Wortbruch). Thus, both the pressure on and thanks to the city of Duisburg were considerable when the city confirmed it would carry out its "promise" to hold the Love Parade 2010, even though it also did not appear to have the capacity to handle the Love Parade. Duisburg was immediately swept up by supportive and powerful interests, so that at least the Ruhr Valley would not suffer the disgrace of rejecting one of the largest pop festivals in Europe during the very same year that the region was officially celebrated as the "Cultural Capital of Europe". To do so would have confirmed the image of the "disgrace of renewed provincial self-aggrandizement" ("Blamage erneuter provinzieller Selbstüberschätzung").

In the following months, the organization, technical, logistical and financial wheels were set in motion to transform Duisburg, in particular the ruins of the "Duisburger Güterbahnhof" (the Duisburg depot). This large industrial field, about a mile south of the actual Duisburg train station, was to be developed into a usable site for the "Art of Love", the Love Parade Duisburg 2010. Many observers and fans of the Love Parade were at first irritated that no actual parade was planned through the streets of the downtown itself—but rather, that a considerably reduced number of floats would drive in a circle around the massive industrial fields of the freight depot, which was itself to be fenced-in due to a range of security and technical reasons. In this structure, it appeared the Love Parade had devolved from badly scratched LP to a "stuck" LP, with the mere façade of a parade going around in circles. The official justification as to why a parade in the conventional sense was not possible was that the compact urban structure of Duisburg did not allow for any other alternative. The Güterbahnhof was the only site large enough to accommodate the Love Parade masses.

Duisburg's Image and Duisburg's Tragedy

After Bochum, Duisburg was both the smallest and least recognizable city that organizers had ever attempted to send the Love Parade caravan through. The compact urban structure and relative lack of administrative resources thus presented considerable challenges and new risks for the Love Parade. As had been indicated, the Love Parade went smoothly in the two "capitals" of the Ruhr Valley: Essen and Dortmund, each of which are comparable in size and population. In other words, if Cologne and Düsseldorf operate as capitals of the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region, then Dortmund and Essen function as the capitals of the Ruhr Valley itself. Dortmund, especially, had by this time already developed a reputation for electronic music events that made its hosting of the Love Parade seem both logical and practical. Since 1995, Dortmund's Westfalenhallen, or the Westphalia Halls, have hosted the oldest annual mega-rave in Germany, the Mayday. Similarly, the electronic music festival Juicy Beats has occurred annually in the Westfalenpark since 1996. Indeed, both of these sites, the Westfalenhallen and the Westfalenpark, proved to be optimal places for after hour parties during the Love Parade 2008.

Duisburg, however, has been beset by considerable challenges. The entire region has suffered from a declining population since the respective Ruhr cities reached their definitive heights in the early 1960s (recall that Cologne and Düsseldorf have stable and, indeed, growing populations). Duisburg has been particularly hard hit. Even with considerable redistricting, the city has had a shrinking population for decades: between 1961 and 1974 the city population declined from roughly 504,000 to 428,000 inhabitants. While the incorporation of surrounding metropolitan areas saw the official city total increase to 590,000 in 1974, this population declined to 490,000 by 2009.

These struggles aside, the importance of Duisburg as a logistic and industrial area should not be discounted. Though it is arguably the antithesis of a tourist destination, it holds a considerably rich cultural and, especially, industrial, history. Duisburg is the center of Thyssen-Krupp and was the top steel-producing city in the world until it was superseded by Shanghai. Situated at the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr Rivers, it also boasts the largest inland harbor in all of Europe. The city's industrial heritage is further apparent in the Landschaftspark-Duisburg Nord, one of the most beautiful industrial parks in Europe and a center of cultural events and concerts.

Nevertheless, Duisburg provided challenges not present in the larger cities of Essen and Dortmund, not to mention Berlin. The Love Parade still had to prove it could function in a city the size and structure of Duisburg. For a city with such economic and cultural challenges, it was also of utmost importance to Duisburg that the Love Parade be successful. First, the event was a marketing platform in the effort to attract "youth culture" to the ageing city. Second, there would be considerable economic profits to be gained from the thousands of "tourists" visiting a city that itself had little tourism industry to speak of. Third, this event was to take place in the year of the RUHR 2010, which represented the opportunity for Duisburg to become fully integrated into the new vision of a "Ruhr Metropolis", while proving that it could steal the spotlight from its larger and more prominent neighbors, Essen and Dortmund. Thus, the pressures were great on all involved to see it as a success.

In the early afternoon of the 24 July 2010, the arrival of the expected party masses began. Shortly after 4 pm, there was an official announcement that 1.4 million visitors were expected at the Love Parade Duisburg. It was an extraordinary triumph for the city and Ruhr region. The realistic figures are now estimated at around 300,000; nevertheless, until the moment of the panic at approximately 4:40 pm, the jubilation of Duisburg seemed readily apparent. What followed was a chaotic unfolding of events and reports that were deeply troubling, even traumatic, for all who were personally involved in some capacity. This video "documentation" by Lopavent contains images of the location and timeline of the events leading up to the panic. However, the "documentation" should also be viewed in the knowledge that it serves Lopavent's explicit legal interests of assigning the blame to the actions of the police.[12]

At this point, the authors would like to split the narrative into the respective experiences and perspectives of Hitzler and Nye regarding the afternoon and evening of the Love Parade Duisburg, 2010. As stated, the chaos of information and reporting that was to follow was disorienting, and we hope our respective reports convey something of both the human complexity and shock with which the day was received.

Hitzler's Account

As a sociologist of youth cultures, I have been researching the techno scene since 1995. I have visited the Love Parade every year since 1997. My contacts with the managerial staff evolved to the point where I had the privilege to observe the developments of the Love Parade from backstage over its many years of existence. My particular involvement with the Love Parade is derived from a special interest in the logistics, marketing and management involved in organizing mass events on the scale of the Love Parade. Furthermore, as a professor located in the Ruhr Valley and with a special project, financed by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, or German Research Foundation) to examine the developments of the "RUHR 2010", I had a special interest in the role that the Love Parade would play in the years leading up to the Year of Culture.

The events in Essen and Dortmund in 2007 and 2008 I had followed with enthusiasm. At this time, I strongly believed that bringing the Love Parade to the Ruhr Valley had been the right decision. It appeared to have provided the needed economic benefits as well as popular and media interest to the Ruhr that would prepare the region for a successful Year of Culture in 2010. I thus belonged to the interest groups in the Ruhr Valley who felt that the breach of promise by Bochum in 2009 was a deeply unfortunate, even treacherous, blow to the Ruhr Valley's plans. When Duisburg reaffirmed its commitment to the Love Parade, I must admit that I, like many, was thankful to the city administration that the popular event would be carried out during RUHR 2010. It seemed a crucial component to the evolving vision of the "Ruhr Metropolis".

I thus arrived backstage in the morning of the 24 July to watch the organizational developments with great interest. I observed how the main stage and "south stage", located as far away as possible on the other side of the train depot, were organized and prepared. Their locations were apparently designed to "equalize" the expected crowds across the entirety of the festival grounds. The stages included the elaborate light shows and sound systems that Lopavent GmbH had become famous for. Nevertheless, it struck me how the site of the train depot was completely different from anything I had observed before at the Love Parade. Something entirely new was being attempted here, since there was no traditional parade through the main streets or traditional split between parade and main stage. Though the fields around the train depot had been appropriately prepared, the entire site was clearly a rather bleak industrial ruin that was not nearly as inviting as former Love Parades.

During the initial hours backstage, I observed the partying masses arrive, yet at no time did I notice that the festival grounds were over capacity. The plan to use the two stages to distribute the crowd seemed to be working fine. I remained backstage at the main stage throughout the course of the day. However, there was no visual evidence from where we were located of the crisis occurring at the main entrance. This entrance was located on the other side of the party grounds. It was only from journalist's video footage and reports from visitors that I could observe and draw conclusions about what had happened in the main entrance to the Love Parade grounds. These films and reports showed that a "turbulent stampede" had developed in the place where visitors were either trying to enter and leave. In this main entrance at around 4:40 pm, panic broke out, claiming the first victims.

From my position backstage, the information received was chaotic. At the facilities where the DJs, staff and organization were stationed (including the many people who worked in supportive capacities), the first reports came at 5:45 pm. These took the form of questions via cell phones to people backstage regarding what had happened. These inquiries came from friends and colleagues who were either watching the news on television or reading via the internet, where the first reports emerged in the form of "breaking news". This was the first information of any kind that came backstage. At around 6:15 pm the staff found out, again entirely via cell phone contacts, that reports of deaths just 200 meters away had been confirmed. The first impulse of most people at hearing this news was to immediately turn off the music and end the party. However, a crisis management group in an office at another part of the city sent an immediate message stating that the music on the festival grounds must continue in order to prevent another mass panic.

The situation backstage, which continued until 11 pm, was, in my observations, extremely distressing for all involved. The knowledge that in front of the stage there were masses of probably unsuspecting "ravers" who just wanted to dance and party, while just two hundred meters away there were numerous dead and injured who needed care, marked the faces of those involved with horror, shock and despair. Some DJs and musicians broke into tears. Many DJs declared that they were not in any capacity to play music. Others spontaneously declared themselves ready to help, so that the party could end in some sense in peace and order. Staff members did their best to keep the many technical problems under control. They improvised professionally in reaction to the constantly changing information. Necessary changes included quickly altering the line-up based on the remaining DJs who could play. According to reports from colleagues, the situation at the "South" stage was beset with similar distress and shock for both the musicians and staff. However, there was enormous relief for both stages when the crisis management teams finally agreed, over five hours after the stampede, that the music could be turned off.

Nye's Account

In my Berlin apartment, I observed developments primarily from a "live" video stream and news updates from Europe's largest tabloid newspaper, Bild.[13] These were broadcasted and posted on their official website, Bild.de. The live-steaming show was planned for three hours, starting at 3 pm and ending at 6 pm and hosted by comedian Oliver Pocher and moderator Sandy Meyer-Wölden. Bild was an official media partner of the Love Parade, and it already declared proudly on 17 June: "Bild.de broadcasts the biggest techno-party in the world!"[14] In fact, though I was considering attending the Love Parade, I became quite concerned and cynical regarding this latest media partnership by the Love Parade with Bild, which is Germany's most notorious tabloid newspaper. With no idea as to how the day would unfold, I decided to observe the Love Parade through how Bild presented it.

As a media partner, there were no critical reports from Bild on possible safety issues prior to the Love Parade; Bild's job was to encourage as many readers as possible to visit the party. This included a series of reports that doubled as advertisements, in which Bild declared itself the celebratory presenter of the Love Parade party. Bild's image of the Love Parade included a long series of cheap photographs in which the techno party essentially consisted of women with exposed breasts, which is consistent with Bild's tradition as a soft-porn tabloid newspaper.[15] It also included such strange events as an exciting "meet and greet" with a boxing champion.[16] These reports were eventually collected by Bild.de into a special feature page of the Love Parade that doubled as a soft-porn site, which again was plastered with as many photos of topless female ravers that Bild.de could gather. It declared proudly, "Bild.de presents the Love Parade!" and included announcements like, "The Love Parade is this wild!"

As the 3-hours of planned live streaming commenced, Bild again declared itself a proud "presenter" of the Love Parade. Ironic poses by host Oliver Pocher followed, which freely acknowledged that any tradition left of "love" or devotion to music at the event was not to be taken seriously. The interviews that followed showed DJs and sponsors happy to have a career opportunity that, at the very least, could bring important economic benefits to Duisburg, but which had little substantive meaning beyond this. This was demonstrated especially when the head of McFit and Lopavent GmbH, Rainer Schaller, and the mayor of Duisburg, Adolf Sauerland, were interviewed. This interview was heartening to the extent that it showed two individuals who had worked a great deal to bring the Love Parade to Duisburg, and all the painful compromises and bad taste left aside (including the partnership with Bild.de), one could celebrate that a city with major troubles would take considerable benefits from the event. This interview took place just minutes prior to the tragedies that were to follow.

In the course of the tragedies, I observed with considerable shock the impressive tactics that Bild.de used to distance itself from the events. Once the panic occurred, the reports from Oliver Pocher and Sandy Meyer-Wöldern, or any other commentator, suddenly ended. The live streaming of the Love Parade music, with camera shots mostly from the main stage, continued until the planned 6 pm end, but with no explanation or commentary as to what was unfolding. Within the next hour, I followed how the online presence of Bild.de was completely transformed from media partner to investigative reporter. Within minutes of the live-streaming ending at 6 pm, Bild's first official report came at 6:07pm: "Deaths from a Mass Panic; Dozens of Ravers Injured".[17] The exclusive page of "Bild.de presents!" that included the soft-porn images was immediately closed and all celebratory articles of the Love Parade "archived" so that now, anyone who came to Bild.de's website would have to make a considerable search to even know that, just hours prior, Bild.de has been an official media partner.

In this sense, Bild.de presented the brutal logic of tabloid reporting in its most pure form; in short, all events are strictly understood as sensations. The sensation was originally supposed to be the Love Parade as a decadent festival presented by Bild.de, but now Bild.de realized the sensation to be reported had shifted to the catastrophe. A rapid series of reports on the stampede followed with graphic images, and these reports were quickly assembled by Bild.de to become its new feature page on the Love Parade, which can still be viewed today: "Mass Panic and Deaths in Duisburg: THE LOVE PARADE DRAMA: All the Info, All the Pictures, All the Videos".[18] From a tabloid partner who never investigated safety issues, Bild.de turned to moralistic accuser: "City, Organizers, Police: You all made mistakes".[19] The English version of Bild now includes their harsh, "investigative" report of Rainer Schaller, "Love Parade Boss grilled by Bild", in which Bild's first two questions are: "Can you still sleep well?" and "Did you neglect safety over greed?"[20] This followed with sensationalist reports of sadness: "The sorrow still tears at our hearts".[21] To be sure, Bild was not the only outlet with questionable media practices following the parade. Other media platforms during the days that followed included repeated images of Duisburg-mayor Sauerland and Loveparade-organizer Schaller, with videos of them often put in slow motion. This had an effect of simplifying and personalizing the guilt, as was argued by Christian Schicha in an interview with the taz.[22]

I must admit that I have never witnessed anything like Bild.de's transformation from trashy media partner to exploitative catastrophe reporter. It represented for me a symbol of the horrible compromises and partnerships that the Love Parade had made in previous years. In short, I saw the tragedy on, unfortunately, a manifold level: a tragedy of meaningless loss of life which was set in the context of media and market systems that had already eliminated nearly all senses of human dignity, praising the party while ironically objectifying and implicitly ridiculing and cheapening all involved. Fortunately, this was not without consequences for Bild. Approximately 140 official complaints were reported to the Journalistic Council (Presserat) following the Love Parade catastrophe; only three of these were not directed at Bild.[23]

The Love Parade and the Vision of a "Ruhr Metropolis"

The catastrophe of such a horrible and prematurely (or alternatively, far too late) end to the "history" of the Love Parade in the Ruhr Valley has already resulted in a plethora of interpretations. It was later linked by many, including the original founder of the Love Parade, Dr. Motte,[24] to the gradual distancing of a cult-event from its original "idealistic" implications and connotations. It was transformed and reorganized to suite the complex "materialistic" calculations of entrepreneurs, media organizations and city politicians. For those who remained committed to the Love Parade's future, this appeared to be the only alternative. At the same time, these compromises meant the end of the Love Parade as it has been originally conceived. The primary aim of the Love Parade in the Ruhr Valley was to economically benefit the respective cities and the McFit fitness chain, while promoting the notion of the "Ruhr Metropolis".

In 2007 and 2008, and into the late afternoon of the 24 July 2010, the Love Parade had been the exemplary pop event representing this vision of the "Ruhr Metropolis". This vision utilized the conception of the Love Parade, following its internationalization in 2001, as an event mounted in premier global metropoles around the world (Berlin, Mexico City, Santiago de Chile, Tel Aviv, Vienna, Capetown, San Francisco). The Love Parade had, indeed, taken place on different urban stretches and in different cities through the Ruhr Valley. This history brought many observers, even those who had nothing to do with the Love Parade, into contact with the vision of the "Ruhr-Metropolis". However, the Ruhr city officials and media organizations were also fooling themselves if they believed that the Love Parade would bring the Ruhr Valley the cultural capital and prestige it desired. Unfortunately for the Ruhr, the Love Parade's move to the Ruhr Valley was at once an economic benefit and a cultural liability. The cultural prestige of the Love Parade had already more than run its course by the time the Ruhr Valley was able to host it. In fact, that the Ruhr Valley wished to host the parade would only increase charges of provinciality, since the event, by then, had become the object of ridicule among large segments of the so-called "creative classes".

Yet the Love Parade, all criticisms aside, remained one of the few mass events of such social-political dimensions, and arguably the only techno event, that was seen to represent an entire community (whether city, region or nation) and with it an entire generation. That it became representative of the "techno scene", especially in Germany, during the 1990s was both its achievement and its scourge. Along with the raving masses flowed massive finances into the cities the Love Parade passed through. This was the case not just for the Berlin Love Parades, but for the Love Parades that took place in the Ruhr Valley and across the world. With its extraordinary media presence, the Love Parade was seen as a champion for these various cities. Thus, even the most egregious media representations and partnerships, as Nye describes in the experience of Bild, were seen as a necessary price to ensure the masses continued to flow to the Parade and to maintain the necessary attention for the Ruhr Valley in its build up to the grand vision of the Cultural Capital of Europe, "RUHR 2010".

One does not need to be involved in techno to comprehend what an immense role the Love Parade played for the Ruhr Valley. One should also consider what role it could have had in the mission of transforming the region into the globally-relevant "Ruhr Metropolis" had the Love Parade not ended in catastrophe. From the very beginning of the Love Parade's Ruhr history, the organizers of the event clearly communicated that it was the economic benefits and media attention that the parade provided which were the main criteria in the decisions regarding the parade's future. Musically, it remained a "techno event" to the extent that EDM remained the only music played. The musical representatives included not only star DJs but local DJs, who usually played music from the "love mobiles". Yet the music continued to be EDM only as long as the visitor numbers remained impressive. Many branches of the techno scene no longer identified the Love Parade as a relevant symbol of "techno" in Germany or Europe by the time it moved to the Ruhr. Media attention became focused on Berlin club culture and its new international scene of "easyjetset" tourism as the most important and relevant developments of techno culture in the 2000s (Rapp 2009; see Nye 2009b). With the capital city's media relevance in Germany, major techno magazines located in Berlin, primarily Groove and De:Bug, had virtually no reports on the Love Parade following 2003, while other major techno magazines, such as the Rhine-Ruhr-based Raveline, continued to feature the Love Parade prominently.

The Love Parade was an event with far greater potential for visitors than the "techno scene" offered. Indeed, in virtually every economic aspect and media practice, the Love Parade had been transformed into a "public event". To be sure, aside from its early period (1989 to 1992), the Love Parade had always been a "public event". It transformed within a few short years from a totally unobserved, small and alternative techno parade to a mass event that was reported the world over, both months prior to and months after the actual day of the event. Even if it changed its motto each year, it kept its basic neoliberal idea: individuals from all corners of the world gather in a single place to party, dance and have "fun". The only limitation was that the dancing was to a specific type of music. This propagated an utterly universal sense of what a "participant" at this event could be. The Love Parade charged no entrance fee and had no door policy. In this sense, it was in its conception a "public event" in a truly fundamentalist form, although it maintained important links to the techno scene. For example, in Berlin, there was always a "Love Week" of techno events that accompanied the Love Parade. This week attracted considerable financial rewards for the local techno clubs and promoters.

In its later years, a gradual alienation occurred between the Love Parade and the techno scene. This alienation happened even to the pop branch of the Berlin techno scene, in particular when the original owners and representatives of the event, which included Dr. Motte and Westbam, finally sold the organization and its name to McFit. Dr. Motte, the founder of the Love Parade, even transformed into one of its most outspoken and controversial critics. The Love Parade became an event supported by strong economic and political interests connected to the Ruhr Valley in particular, who were interested in establishing a future Ruhr culture aimed at 2010, and beyond. It was also clearly servicing the business interests of its "sponsor" and de facto owner, the fitness-chain McFit. For McFit, the Love Parade was a marketing event with multiple aspects. It appeared perfectly suited for the chain—combining the twin-functionality of EDM as a music for rave freaks and fitness freaks—while offering the "normal masses" some relaxing summer fun. This aura of the Love Parade deceived those who were the protagonists and sympathizers of the event.

Since the catastrophe, in which 21 people died, the question of the Love Parade's deceptive aura has been heightened to included issues of self-deception in relation to both moral and legal responsibility. This deception was carried forth in the casual trust that, with a juvenile thrill for risk-taking, the protagonists and organizers thought that all organizational, logistic and security issues regarding the parade would somehow take care of themselves. Still, for 21 years and 23 days, it seemed almost miraculous that an annual event of this size could be carried out without a hitch. But now the unspeakable has occurred. Many are now realizing that something of this magnitude could have happened at past Love Parades. Ultimately, it was the transformation of the Love Parade into a "travelling carnival" that posed new risks. The promise of constant geographic novelty meant that the Love Parade would be mounted upon untested grounds and sites every single year. For an event of this size, this presented challenges with logistical planning which, in the end, resulted in grave mistakes at the Love Parade Duisburg. The moral and legal responsibilities of the parties involved are currently being processed and discussed by the courts, in the press and among individual citizens, and recriminations will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

And so on?

Placed in the larger context of popular culture at the turn of the millennium, the Love Parade should be considered within the structure of "events". An event, understood sociologically, pertains to social gatherings that are systematically marketed as necessary for people to attend in order to have a unique "experience". Entertainment industries, of which the Love Parade is a part, offer an "experience" consisting of profane "fun" that is marketed as self-expression free from specific rituals and political ties (Gebhardt 2000). Mass events like the Love Parade also operate on a double marketing strategy of connecting to specific scenes and traditions while promising the event will be a unique experience for all (consider the 2000 motto "One World, One Loveparade). In whatever way the event is marketed, it is "not to be missed". Cities and regions thus view events as ideal ways in which to attract both media attention and visitors.

At mass events, there is always the potential that panic or other catastrophes can occur. A catastrophe on the scale of Duisburg might lead one to expect major changes in event planning. After all, the trust that city and local authorities place in events would be shaken, especially the assumption that events are the best option for promoting economic growth and cultural attention. However, it is likely that the only changes the Duisburg tragedy will cause in the near future are that the general security and organizational measures for future events will be tightened. While the Love Parade has been canceled, techno parades of similar size continue, such as the Street Parade in Zürich. New forms of events will surely arise since the techno parade as a popular event in Europe has declined throughout the 2000s.

For officials and local authorities, mass events appear to remain the only alternative because every-day-life in late modern society has already become "eventized". Indeed, eventization has turned into a routine aspect of modernity similar to pluralization (Berger and Luckmann 1995), individualization (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002), optionalization (Gross 1994), commercialization (Prisching 2006), globalization (Beck 2007) and mediatization (Krotz 2007). Eventization is, in other words, the strongest manifestation of what the Bamberg sociologist Gerhard Schulze has called our "experience rationality" (Schulze 1992), and which he later analyzes under the notion of an "event culture" (Schulze 1999). In the German context, this has led to repeated critiques against the perceived problem of the hedonist "fun-society" (Spaßgesellschaft) (Hepp and Vogelsang 2003). These critiques against the amoral sale and consumption of abstract "fun" arise, however, within a context in which events are the primary basis by which cities and regions market their worth and quality of life to their customer-citizens.

This "experience rationality" even continues to function both during and after catastrophes. With catastrophes, and the media presentation of the catastrophe of Duisburg has been yet another exemplary case, the catastrophe becomes something to "experience" as with Bild's "drama" page that promises: "All the Infos; All the Pictures; All the Videos". Through images and commentary, it will become a tragic event. As has already been shown, the rapid shift of the Bild newspaper from media partner to investigative reporter follows the brutal logic of events, which in this case are strictly defined as sensations. The Love Parade itself, especially in its later history in Berlin and both in its internationalization and transfer to the Ruhr, followed this brutal logic. It defined its event as the most general notion of "fun" that can be offered to anyone at anywhere at anytime.

We apply this "logic" of the cultural autonomy of eventization to the Love Parade. In other contexts outside of the academy, the logic of eventization is itself wrestled with in the assigning of guilt for the Love Parade catastrophe. For example, techno protagonists are calling to bring the event back "into the scene" and revive its "authentic spirit".[25] Some of these arguments, which include elements of blatant Berlin elitism, blame the Ruhr region, and Duisburg in particular, for ruining the Love Parade "spirit". In contrast, those with little sympathy for the techno scene express different ideals regarding the return of an "authentic spirit". For example, Domradio (Cathedral Radio) in Cologne, reported on the World Youth Day in Cologne, which had 400,000 participants, with the following moralistic tone: "Experts gave the organization of the Cologne Cathedral their praise for doing an excellent job—considering the dead and injured at the Duisburg 'Love Parade', this can't be taken for granted". They even stated that the organizers and participants should continue to put "values into the character of their events".[26] Still others, concerned with the future of the Ruhr more than the future or moral judgment of the Love Parade, such as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, report, "The dead in the Ruhr Valley are to be mourned, but also the [European] Capital of Culture has to suffer with this. It will never again be able to celebrate so joyously like it did on the highway A40. The main task now for the region is to recreate itself anew. Therefore, the Culture Festival has to continue: somber and grieving. But devoted to life. The Ruhr Valley can do it" (Norbisrath 2010). The Love Parade has been banned; however, the logic of eventization continues. For cities that continue to suffer debt and economic challenges, such as Duisburg, the lure of the event's promise feels like the only option—for better or for worse.

Author Biographies

Ronald Hitzler is Professor of Sociology at the Technical University, Dortmund. He studied sociology, political science, and philosophy at the University of Konstanz and later researched at the Universities of Konstanz, Bamberg, Cologne and Munich. His research specializes in youth scenes, events and the marketing of cities, as well as the sociology of culture and modernization as a "problem of management". His books include a co-edited volume with Micheala Pfadenhauer on the techno scene: Techno-Soziologie: Erkundungen einer Jugendkultur (Leske + Budrich, 2001) (Techno Sociology: Investigations of a Youth Culture) and more recently, the third-revised edition, co-authored with Arne Niederbacher, of Leben in Szenen: Formen juveniler Vergemeinschaftung heute (VS-Verlag, 2010) (Living in Scenes: Current Forms of Juvenile Socialization).

Sean Nye is a PhD-student in the Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society program at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He has been a DAAD-scholar at the Humboldt University, Berlin and a fellow of the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies at the Free University, Berlin. His dissertation project concerns constructions of German identity in electronic music between 1968 and 2009. His articles, reviews, and translations have appeared in Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, New Literary Critique, Cultural Critique, Journal der Jugendkulturen, and Echo: A Music-Centered Journal.

The authors have spent time together experiencing and researching the Love Parade in Berlin 2003 and in Dortmund 2008. Hitzler has personally experienced every Love Parade since 1997, and Nye, who attended parades in 2003 and 2008, first visited the Love Parade in 1999.


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[1] A thorough documentary of the early developments of the German techno scene exists. It includes vintage film footage and music (see Sextro and Wick 2008).

[2] For images and interviews regarding the development of the Love Parade over this period, see BMG (2003).

[3] See the German magazine Der Spiegel's feature article (Beyer, von Festenberg and Mohr 1999) in an issue with the title of "die 99er: Jugend der Jahrtausendwende" (the 99ers: Youth at the Turn of the Millennium). The article discusses the Love Parade as a symbol of "Generation 99". Both the cover of the issue and the article, which is available as a PDF download in the link provided in the references, feature images from the Love Parade.

[4] For an account of the Love Parade's Berlin history, as well as the role it played in Berlin cultural and musical life, see Nye (2009a) and Meyer (2001). For images and interviews, see BMG (2003).

[5] <http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,708525,00.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[6] <http://www.badische-zeitung.de/panorama/loveparade-katastrophe-16-personen-im-visier--40204959.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[7] The metropolitan region is a designation for urban planning purposes applied in Germany to 11 regions that contain the most significant cities in Germany. See the following site: <http://www.deutsche-metropolregionen.org> (accessed 28 January 2011) or the page on Wikipedia, which contains an appropriate overview: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_regions_in_Germany> (accessed 28 January 2011).

[8] <http://www.rp-online.de/wirtschaft/news/Duesseldorf-die-schuldenfreie-Landeshauptstadt_aid_478973.html> (accessed 28 January 2011).

[9] "Ruhrzeit" means "Ruhr time", which is a variation on "Uhrzeit", or "clock time".

[10] <http://www.rp-online.de/niederrheinnord/duisburg/loveparade/Alle-Loveparade-Zahlen-gefaelscht_aid_887726.html> (accessed 4 February 2011). A 34-page report was released following the Duisburg catastrophe that officially acknowledged the systematic exaggeration of visitor results during the Ruhr years of the Love Parade.

[11] <http://www.derwesten.de/staedte/bochum/Loveparade-in-Bochum-abgesagt-id1345976.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[12] For more information on Lopavent's official position regarding the course of events, see <http://www.dokumentation-loveparade.com/english/> (accessed 10 February 2011).

[13] Bild's history and political-social role in German and European popular culture is long, complicated and notorious. In an academic-literary context, it is best known for the heated conflict it was engaged in with Nobel-prize winning author, Heinrich Böll, who published a scathing satire of Bild in his novel, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1974).

[14] <http://www.bild.de/BILD/unterhaltung/topics/loveparade/2010/06/17/techno-party-loveparade-2010/bild-de-uebertragt-live-aus-duisburg-oliver-pocher.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[15] <http://www.bild.de/BILD/regional/ruhrgebiet/aktuell/2010/04/16/innen-ministerium-gibt-gruenes-licht-fuer/die-loveparade-in-duisburg.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[16] <http://www.bild.de/BILD/unterhaltung/topics/loveparade/2010/07/12/loveparade/einsendungen-foto-wettbewerb-wladimir-klitschko-treffen.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[17] <http://www.bild.de/BILD/news/2010/07/24/love-parade-tote/und-verletzte-bei-massenpanik.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[18] <http://www.bild.de/BILD/news/topics/loveparade/duisburg-massenpanik-tote-verletzte.html> (accessed 4 February 2011). One can still see a trace of this former, exclusive site on the page in which Bild announces the media partnership linked in endnote 14. There is a link with an image of two women kissing each other and the statement: "All the Info for the Love Parade 2010". However, it now leads to the catastrophe site.

[19] <http://www.bild.de/BILD/news/2010/08/01/loveparade-stadt/veranstalter-polizei-schuld-duisburg.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[20] <http://www.bild.de/BILD/news/bild-english/world-news/2010/07/28/love-parade-boss-grilled-by-bild/rainer-schaller-we-fulfilled-all-obligations-100-per-cent.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[21] <http://www.bild.de/BILD/news/2010/08/02/loveparade-duisburg-trauer/zerreisst-uns-immer-noch-das-herz.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[22] <http://www.taz.de/1/leben/medien/artikel/1/so-entsteht-regelrechter-hass/> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[23] <http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/loveparade-fall-fuer-presserat-bild-des-grauens-proteste-gegen-presse-1.980328> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[24] <http://www.thelocal.de/national/20100725-28727.html> (accessed 4 February 2011).

[25] For examples of such calls, see the commentaries in the techno magazine Raveline (Novy 2010; Schäfer 2010).

[26] <http://www.domradio.de/includesDEV/eactions/eactions_print.asp?ID=66617> (accessed 4 February 2011).